People are nervous about artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, robots and the impact these technological advances will have on jobs. In articles I read and at conferences attended, I hear a repetitive scare story that the need for people in the workplace will be gone. As a recent article published by Harvard Business Review (HBR) pointed out, “It is easy to find reports that predict the loss of between 5 and 10 million jobs by 2020.”
But I don’t believe advances in technology will eliminate the need for people, these developments just change the role of humans in the workplace.
Robots can’t contribute what humans can.
When used properly, technology boosts our productivity. Humans are strategic and have heart, we bring imagination and creativity to our work. We identify the world problems that are trying to be solved by machines. We set ambitious goals. Machines can bring the ability to optimize the tactical elements humans have historically provided. Machines may evolve to bring more strategy and heart to work in the future, but we aren’t close to actualizing that fully yet.
Robots change the workforce requirements.
Advances in technology will mean we need fewer people to perform certain tasks. But we will still need people to manage the technology itself. And we will still need people to manage people in the workforce, because humans are emotional beings and most generally prefer emotional contact with other humans, not machines.
The HBR article references a study from Australia about the digitally-enabled workforce and highlights the creation of new jobs because of technology. Some example new jobs include decision support analysts, customer experience experts, personalized preventative health helpers, and online chaperones who help customers manage online risks such as identify theft, reputational damage, social media bullying and harassment, and internet fraud.”
Automobile advancements illustrate how tech impacts the workforce.
Consider the analogy of automobile advances. As humans, the cars we operate have changed significantly since Henry Ford introduced the Model T. While those changes are beneficial (heated seats, GPS, Bluetooth-enabled audio, etc.) the tech behind these improvements have made it much more difficult for drivers to fix their cars at home.
To maintain our cars, most of us visit a mechanic who understands the software behind all the bells and whistles. At some point, a robot may be able to do most of the work that mechanics perform. But behind that robot will be a group of humans working together, ensuring the robot is running properly, writing code to run the robot, and dreaming up the latest and greatest features, as well as troubleshooting system failures when—not if–they occur.
Humans are smart, creative, analytical and emotional beings. Rather than worrying that robots will take over the workforce, I believe we’re better served by finding the best ways to recruit, train, develop, and manage the people who will be responsible for shepherding the technology to best serve what humans envision.